Tomorrow, ten new countries join the EU in a day to be celebrated as a ‘Day of Welcomes’ across Europe. Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia join the weighty alliance – remember these names. Their accession has been the stuff of vigorous and vicious discussion and debate. They have been vilified as the purveyors of job-takers, subsidy hounds and deadweight. They have been lauded as a mechanism for cultural enrichment, and the conveyance of additional legitimacy for the Union. The social ideal of Jean Monnet lives on in the accession, and the anti-war post World War II driver has new life breathed into it in this single act.
Yet is in the political, power broking scheme that we see the real sensitivities and issues emerging. Rumsfeld’s New Europe is on the doorstep; Annan’s (nearly) reunified Cyprus is joining; Iraqi combatants Poland and the United Kingdom are united, and France and Germany holding the anti-Iraq war flag are further isolated in political terms. The EU Constitution had central to its debate the notion of Christianity – was Europe to be defined in terms of its predominant religion? As Europe is inevitably redefined through the incremental accession (for only some of the rights of the 15 will immediately fall upon the new initiates) will it define itself as strongly European, or strongly not-Islamic or not-American? It is in the temptation of a negative definition that the pitfalls lie.
Reactionary politics is all too frequent in modern democracies. From Jim Hacker’s lamentable ‘I am their leader, I must follow them!’ through the incessant focus groups, pollsters and spinning, the political elite has meandered through public opinion, reflecting what the perceived opinion is, and not leading a people to where it should go. This is easy, because it requires no courage, no bravery, and invariably no scruples – it is also lazy. Similarly, as Europe defines itself, it must not define itself in the context of the world first; it must seek to define itself in terms of that which makes Europe great, and ultimately an analysis of that position should determine its place in the world. If only this could be true!
The pragmatists will of course win. Definition of Europe can only be permissible where the US is not completely isolated, China is kept within the fold, and bin Laden is not too miffed at us. Within these parameters, we can seek definition. It’s OK to oppose the death penalty while the US does not, but it would be unthinkable to support the G22 in the WTO. It’s OK to have a tokenist resistance to China’s human rights record, but we certainly cannot do anything about it. And it’s OK to send peace keeping troops to Iraq, so long as Palestine retains our support. It’s a melting pot of culture, and a melting pot of compromise.
That doesn’t make it a bad place, though. Europe is stronger together than apart; the ideas of Monnet and the other fathers of Europe were laudable and idealistic – they are largely retained in social and (internal) economic terms. Yet in an increasingly globalised society, Monnet’s vision can never be sustained in the absence of a similar idealism extending beyond the frontiers of the EU, in how Europe is represented abroad, and how it manages relationships across the oceans.